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SBC Interview: Zapier’s Wade Foster

By: SmallBizClub


1. Tell us about the idea and goals behind Zapier. How does it make peoples’ lives easier?

My background is in marketing, specifically marketing automation. One of the things I did at previous businesses was figure out how to trigger emails based on events in our database. This required hacking around on email APIs like Mandrill and SendGrid. I’m not a particularly good developer, so this was challenging.
One of my co-founders, Bryan Helmig, on the other hand, was working on a handful of SaaS apps, and customers were always asking for integration with copious services. He pitched me on the idea of a hub where people could connect any app, no matter what their technical experience was. Since I was doing a mediocre job on email APIs, this idea connected with me. We teamed up with Mike Knoop and started Zapier. 
The goal is to make it easy for people anywhere to connect to the various web services they use. For instance, if they want to send Unbounce Leads into Salesforce, save Gmail attachments to Dropbox, or send GitHub deployments into HipChat, they can perform those tasks through Zapier. We are essentially giving non-technical users superpowers to get their work done effectively and efficiently.
2. How did you get into the tech industry?
In school, I studied industrial engineering, but most of those jobs were geared toward manufacturing, which I wasn’t interested in. Toward the end of college, I started experimenting more with Internet marketing. Since everything was numbers-driven, it jived with my inner engineer.
I worked with a few companies that were doing interesting things online, but I didn’t have any “ins” with the tech industry. In a lot of ways, Zapier has been my way into the greater tech industry.
3. What setbacks did you encounter while trying to get Zapier off the ground?
There were, thankfully, very few setbacks. We’ve taken a slow and steady approach to building the company. There were certainly pivotal points along the way, though. For instance, we could have easily stopped working on the company after Startup Weekend. We could have easily decided to stay in Columbia, Mo., and not accepted the offer to attend Y Combinator.
4. Why did you move to Silicon Valley? How has it helped your company gain momentum and talent?
We were accepted to Y Combinator, the top tech accelerator in the world. Truly, that was just an easy way for us to break into the tech scene. The biggest advantage of Silicon Valley for us was the ability to have access to our partners. We work with 300 tech companies, and most of those have a Bay Area presence. It just made sense to be close to them.
5. Why did you choose to hire remotely? What advantages does having a remote team provide for Zapier?
After Y Combinator, Mike decided to move back to Missouri while his fiancée finished law school. Since kicking him out of the company wasn’t an option, remote work made a lot of sense for us. Remote capabilities made a lot of things easy for us when it came to recruiting as well. For instance, we were able to recruit outside of our Midwestern networks.
6. How do you maintain a healthy work-life balance? What are three to five strategies you use in your daily life?
I try to have dinner every night with my wife. That tends to force my day to end around 7 p.m. at the latest. I also take Saturdays completely off. It’s one day of the week to detach from the company. I also try to know my limits and only say yes to the things I can commit to fully. This helps me fit work activities into the allotted time. 
7. What do consider as your biggest accomplishment? Why?
Zapier is my biggest accomplishment, hands down. I’ve never done something that has affected so many people around the world.
8. What future plans do you have for Zapier? What are your next goals and challenges?
It might be a cliché, but we want to build a company that’s going to be around for a long time. Building a company that outlives me would be a fantastic gift to society. Because of that, our goals focus on long-term growth.
Published: June 4, 2014

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